If you ask about the profitability of smuggling drugs in most Star Citizen player communities you will receive swarms of replies indicating it isn’t worth it or that it takes forever to sell drugs.
That simply isn’t true.
Drug smuggling in Star Citizen has the most profitable small volume trade runs currently available by far.
Most of these responses are from individuals who believe the only way to smuggle drugs in Star Citizen is by picking up a mission that gives them a marker to a drug lab and then selling it at Grim HEX or CRU-L5’s hidden terminal. While that is a way to do it, that isn’t the only way. It’s also incredibly slow because both of those terminals have incredibly low demand for drugs.
Many of these individuals look up drug routes on wonderful trading tools like Gallog.co which is great if you don’t want to put a lot of critical thinking into the trade routes. Additionally, many of these individuals assume to use a massive hauler such as a Caterpillar.
Critical Thinking – Getting off the autopilot and into the drug trade
Risk management is everything when it comes to running cargo and even more so with drug smuggling in Star Citizen. Currently, your primary risk is 30k crashes meaning a total loss of cargo. Your second highest risk is to PvP which is much higher than legitimate trading due to the locations you will buy and sell your payloads are typically not armistice zones. Your third risk is being stopped by NPC security forces which will inevitably happen and will land you on the PvP bounty missions due to crime stat.
In the words of Jeff Goldblum as he played the role of Dr. Ian Malcolm in the 1993 film Jurassic Park in a scene being chased by the escaped Tyrannosaurus Rex, “Must go faster”.
The faster you move, especially when your ship is loaded with cargo, the less time exposure you have towards the risk of 30k and PvP. And this isn’t just being in motion at high speeds.. this is reducing the time you are at risk of loss.
The threat of 30k always exists. There is no way to avoid it. While they are some warnings of a 30k pending, 99.9% of the time a player will be unable to take action to avoid being consumed by the 30k. While running cargo, the only effective way to mitigate the risk is to reduce the amount of time you are at risk – that is doing things to reduce the amount of time between loading the first piece of cargo into your ship and unloading the last piece of that cargo from your ship. Every second while there is cargo on your ship – that you paid for – you are at risk of loss. Keep this in mind as we continue.
30k crashes typically do not cause a loss of cargo if your ship is landed in a location where you could normally use the ship terminal to retrieve that same ship. Drug labs and some of the more lucrative drug offloading locations DO NOT have ship retrieval and storage capabilities and therefore a ship lost due to 30k at one of these locations is a ship lost along with its cargo with absolutely zero chance of recovery. Using these locations is an increased risk.. but with risk comes reward.
PvPers and pirates and griefers oh my!
The threat of PvP always exists but it exists at a higher risk rate in certain situations. When drug smuggling in Star Citizen the point of highest risk is when your ship is landed and full of cargo in a place that is not protected by an armistice zone. This risk is further amplified if there is no comm array coverage over that area because it gives anyone in that area with a penchant for PvP, piracy, or griefing carte blanche to destroy your ship.
Obviously, reducing the time your ship spends loaded with cargo in such a landing location is going to reduce your risk the most for both 30ks and PvP. This is where understanding supply and demand mechanics work.
Another potential PvP situation that arises is the drug lab or drug destination being occupied when you arrive. In those situations the best course of action is to avoid the risk by pulling off as soon as possible and returning to orbit. If it is a drug lab you can choose to wait 100+ km away for 5-10 minutes or go to another drug lab entirely. If it is your trade destination (more on that later) you should pull off into orbit 100+ km away and wait.
9 times out of 10 the other player at the drug hotspot is either there for the same thing you are or is dropping off or picking up a delivery box. In other words, the regulars do not tend to loiter at these locations. Someone who does loiter at such a location is likely up to no good and in that case it is usually better to pull off completely, land your ship in a safe harbor and jump to another server.
Golden rule of drug smuggling in Star Citizen – never, ever start a drug run with any crime stat or charge against you. Pay your fines, pull your ships out of impound.. clean your record. Have a re-authorizer on you at all times.
It is rare but eventually it’ll happen – you’ll get pulled over with a hold full of drugs. The answer to this is simple: Throttle up. If you stay they will scan you and you’ll get additional charges raising your crime stat even higher. As of 3.10 just running from the security patrols will not cause you to show up on the bounty hunter missions. In all jurisdictions running from security forces results in a “failure to comply” charge and a 20,000 UEC fine.. no crimestats assuming you have a clean record. Just run from the cops and offload your drugs and then immediately take care of that fine one way or the other.
A crime stat of level 2 or higher is required for a player to show up as a bounty hunting target.
Star Citizen’s trade commodity supply and demand mechanics in a nutshell
As of Alpha 3.6 trade supply and demand is based on several factors. Each trade location has a maximum supply or demand amount it can reach. Every 5 minutes the location will increase its supply or demand for each commodity by a tick rate. The tick rate is more of an average than an exact number. Once a location hits its maximum supply or demand value for a certain commodity, the supply or demand stops increasing.
Demand is shared across all server instances, too. So if another player on another server buys up all of a commodity from a terminal moments before you get to it, that terminal will not have any of that commodity left in stock for you. You’ll have to keep this in the back of your mind for real world application. I will not be applying this fuzzy variable to the following and assuming you are the only person making these cargo runs.
Applying supply and demand to drug smuggling in Star Citizen
Let’s take a look at Reclamation and Disposal Orinth (RDO) on Hurston’s trade supply and demand values. We see it buys E’tam at 114.3 UEC per unit. It has a Refresh Per Minute value of 200 and a Max Inventory of 1,000. A single SCU is 100 units of a commodity.
With this information we know that if RDO has reached its max inventory demand of 1,000, we can sell a full 10 SCU immediately upon arrival. This would net us 29,300 in profit assuming we purchased the E’tam at 85 UEC per unit at Paradise Cove.
Now here is where the critical thinking comes into play: If we only limit ourselves to 10 SCU of drugs, we greatly diminish our risk by making our risk loiter time at the cargo destination as low as possible. Assuming you have no radar contacts upon approach and touchdown at the location, most players can get out of their ship and sell their cargo in under 60 seconds.
Diversified Investment Strategies
RDO also buys Neon and has the exact same maximum inventory and refresh per minute values as E’tam does. There are also two drug labs which currently sell both E’tam and Neon: Paradise Cove on Lyria and Nuen Waste Management on Daymar.
This means you can buy 10 SCU of E’tam and 10 SCU of Neon in a single cargo run and assuming max inventory at RDO upon arrival, you can sell them both immediately. Let’s look at the numbers using this method.
Purchasing 10 SCU of E’tam at Paradise Cove at 85 UEC per unit costs 85,000 UEC. Purchasing 10 SCU of Neon at Paradise Cove at 70 UEC per unit costs 70,000 UEC. The total cost is 155,000 UEC. Selling the 10 SCU of E’tam to RDO nets a profit of 24,113.90 UEC and the Neon to RDO nets a profit of 20,000 UEC for a total of 44,113.9 UEC profit for just 20 SCU of cargo. A 28.4% return on investment. For reference, a “legitimate” trade run in a Cutlass Blue (25 SCU) of Agricium nets just under 10,000 UEC in profit.
20 SCU is a fairly small cargo load when it comes to cargo ships. This run opens the opportunity to make decent profit with [relatively] small, fast, and nimble ships such as the Cutlass series (Black at 46 SCU, Blue at 25 SCU, and Red at 10 SCU). Alternatively heavily armored ships can be used to run this route to further reduce the risk of PvP attack. The Freelancer MIS, Valkyrie (with a crew), and Freelancer MIS come to mind as options. Going even more nimble and faster at the cost of some cargo capacity the Avenger Titan comes to mind with 8 SCU and the Origin 315p which has 12 SCU – just fill with a 50/50 mix of Neon and E’tam for minimum risk.
Greed and Accepting More Risk
“Why not just grab 20 SCU instead of 10 SCU of each type?” That thought comes into the mind of every drug smuggler eventually.
The bottom-line is that for every 10 SCU over the baseline of 10 SCU you add roughly 5-10 minutes to your loiter time at both the drug lab and RDO. That’s a lot of risk.
You can mitigate it though.
If you have an escort in another ship you can fend off anyone who might try to turn your drug-laden ship to scrap. Granted this won’t completely mitigate the risk – there could be a sneaky bastard in an Eclipse which your escort doesn’t see who pops your ship with a well-placed torpedo from 20 KM away while you wait to offload 250,000 UEC worth of cargo.
However you cannot mitigate the risk of 30k server crashes. Keep this in mind when buying more than 10 SCU worth of drugs.
Navigating the Trade Route
None of the locations in effective drug trafficking have quantum travel markers. You must manually fly to them using landmark references. Sometimes you can get missions for deliveries or maintenance which take you to the locations, but it is not set in stone that those missions will spawn or even be available due to reputation metrics which we currently have no visibility on. Even with the markers from missions you will still be unable to quantum travel to the destination completely and can sometimes find yourself slow-boating to the location – in the case of RDO, this can sometimes take upwards of 15 minutes of slow-boating depending on Hurston’s orientation when you arrive. There are faster ways to navigate to these unmarked locations. Those methods are beyond the scope of this article.
UPDATE 13-AUG-2020: Star Citizen Tips on YouTube has released videos to find all 3 locations in 3.10:
DigThat32 has a great video which shows you how to use landmark references and some sneaky maneuvering between Orbital Markers around moons and planets to find Nuen Waste Management and RDO. Bear in mind, the video he made was with 3.8.2 and in 3.10.0 the terrain height maps changed so the visual landmarks and references will likely look different at the very least. Combining the methods DigThat32 demonstrates while having a mission active which puts a marker on your destination will make getting to and from your drug markets incredibly easy.
Going one step further: a group could place guards at Nuen Waste Management, Paradise Cove, and Reclamation and Disposal Orinth to keep away the riff-raff while the group’s smugglers could use the guard’s quantum beacons to easily quantum travel to and from the locations. Just be mindful that in 3.10 the navigation system does not plot spline jumps to safely route you around planets when jumping to quantum beacons.. so don’t jump direct to a beacon if there is a planet or moon between you and the destination.
We’ve learned that drug running can be worth your time if you do it correctly. While it is not the most profitable route in the game currently, it is the most profitable route in the game under 20 SCU.
Drug smuggling in Star Citizen can add some extra excitement for a player that wants to run cargo. It also makes for an entertaining experience for groups as the risk mitigation for PvP is real.
While Jumptown and the Jumptown Wars are a thing of the past, the game has evolved and this new generation of drug smuggling in Star Citizen has the potential to bring a wide dynamic of emergent PvP game play which so many members of the Star Citizen community crave.